Archive for August, 2015

Girdling Trees to Expand Food Plots

Posted on August 31, 2015 by Leave a comment

We are gradually clearing an old agricultural field that was once abandoned and we want to clear it again. We are using this field for multiple purposes, planting food plots, a vegetable garden, an orchard and nut trees. In order to get more sunlight into our field we keep culling trees on the edges of the field. We have been using girdling to do this.

A few years ago we started culling unwanted trees by girdling them. Girdling is the process of cutting the cambium layer or outer bark, down to the wood. In our method we use a chainsaw and make a shallow cut around the circumference of the tree in 2 places, usually about 4 inches apart; one upper; one lower, about one to two feet above the ground. It is important that the cut is made all the way to the wood specially in uneven areas of the bark. We usually do not cut more than 1/2 inch into the wood, because we want the tree to maintain its strength and remain upright until it is dead. We do not want to weaken the tree so that wind will blow it over easily.

Girdling Trees to Clear Land

Girdling Trees to Clear Land

Why does this work to kill the tree and how long does it take the tree to die? Trees have two types of vascular tissue. The Xylem (wood) which carries water and nutrients up the tree and the Phloem (inner bark) which carries sugars (sucrose) down the tree to the roots. The stored energy in the roots in deciduous trees is essential to new leaf generation each spring. When this source of energy to the roots is cut off, the tree will die. Sometimes death will take several years, but usually by the third year the tree is dead. This method can also be used to thin trees in a forest. In a forestry situation, you can come back and cut the tree down or just let it die and let nature fell the tree as it decays.

One of the benefits of girdling trees is that the wood can be used for firewood and it is kept dry naturally while the tree is still standing. If cut within the second to fifth years, when the tree is dead or near dead, the wood is dry but has not yet had time to begin to decompose. This drying while standing minimizes the time that firewood needs to “season” prior to being burned.

Using a Girdled Tree for Firewood

Using a Girdled Tree for Firewood

Why not just cut the tree down in the first place? The best time to cut an remove a deciduous tree is when the leaves are off the tree. We are not always available to cut the trees at this time of year, or we do not have enough time to cut down as many trees as we would like. By girdling the trees, we immediately stop further growth of the tree above ground and at the roots. The leaves will start to fall off after girdling, and will start letting in more light. You can girdle a tree in under 10 minutes. This allows us to stop the growth of a quantity of trees and still have the flexibility to remove them at our convenience. Since we are clearing a field, we do not want the cut trees creating clutter in our field and limiting our ability to mow or till.

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Eggplant, Tomato, Pepper Bake Recipe

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Leave a comment

Eggplant, Tomato Pepper Bake Recipe. We have been harvesting a lot of eggplant along with a lot of tomatoes, banana peppers, hot wax peppers, onions and herbs in our garden. Sometimes this creates the challenge of what can we make that is different from what we have been making. We decided to make a dish that is somewhat of a combination of eggplant parmesan, and pizza, quick to make and uses a lot of vegetables. We came up with this recipe and it turned out very well for us. We will definitely make it again!!

Eggplant, Tomato, Pepper Bake

Eggplant, Tomato, Pepper Bake

“Free Style” guidelines – adjust the quantities to your taste, available ingredients, and baking pan size.
Eggplant, Tomato, Pepper, Bake Recipe: Laid out in a baking pan

Extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
Saltine crackers finely crumbled to put a thin layer on the bottom of the pan (or something similar)
Eggplant – peeled and cut in 1/4 inch slices and then cut in bite size squares so the whole bottom of the pan is covered without any gaps.
Pasta Sauce – spread your choice of prepared pasta sauce over the top of the eggplant. (or make your own)
Herbs – add a little extra dried or fresh basil and oregano spread evenly over the top.
Turkey Pepperoni cut into 1/2 inch squares and spread evenly across the top of the eggplant.
Tomatoes – Cut fresh cherry, grape, or large tomato into 1 inch squares and place along the edges of the pan spaced about an inch apart.
Peppers – Cut banana, hot wax, jalapeño, or any paper, into slices and place randomly over the top of the sauce.
Cheese – we used a combination of fresh grated mozzarella and fresh grated hard parmesan cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, add cheese to the top and bake 15 more minutes until the cheese is baked enough for you.
Enjoy!

What we eat seems to be dictated by what we have available to pick in the garden. We seem to be picking a basket with a variety similar to this every 3 days. It has been a great treat to eat garden fresh vegetables every day, and also to give some away to family and friends.

Vegetable Garden Harvest!

Vegetable Garden Harvest!

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Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Mouse!

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Leave a comment

In rural western NY State Red Tailed Hawks are very common to see flying, soaring and calling overhead. It is somewhat unusual to catch them capturing lunch. We apologize for the photo quality, but we still wanted to do a post about the event. We were lucky the camera caught both the catch and the “fly away”. In the fields and pastures here there is an abundance of mice and meadow voles. A meadow vole is a larger mouselike animal with a short tail. These rodents are a frequent meal for owls, hawks, foxes, and snakes.

Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Meadow Vole

Red Tailed Hawk Catching a Meadow Vole

This Red Tailed Hawk has flown down and ambushed what we think is a meadow vole based on its somewhat large size and color. The hawk has taken a moment to secure it’s catch and is flying off to a more private place to consume it’s meal.

Red tailed hawk flying away with it's catch!

Red tailed hawk flying away with it’s catch!

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Juliet Tomatoes

Posted on August 25, 2015 by Leave a comment

For many years now we have grown Juliet “grape” tomatoes. We do this because this variety tastes great and ALWAYS produces lots of tomatoes all summer up until frost. We go out the day before the first killing frost in the fall and pick all the green and pink tomatoes. We bring them inside to ripen and many times will have tomatoes for Thanksgiving and once in a while for Christmas. We usually plant a variety of larger fruited beefsteak type tomatoes which we prefer to eat. They seem to bear more inconsistently than the Juliet. From our experience the Juliet will produce even in partial shade.

Juliet Tomatoes!

Juliet Tomatoes!

Juliet tomato transplants are usually available for purchase at big box and smaller retail outlets, but some years they are hard to find. I encourage you to keep looking, or calling until you find them. The extra effort will be rewarded. As with all tomato transplants we strip off the bottom leaves and plant the transplants as deeply as possible with only about 6 inches of top sticking out of the ground. We do this because the tomato stem will put out roots along the portion of the stem that is buried. This effort effectively lowers the root system several inches deeper in the soil and creates a root system that is more drought tolerant and that has access to more nutrients. Other types of transplants, like peppers, will not do this and they need to be planted at the same level as they are in the transplant container.

Juliet Tomatoes on the Vine

Juliet Tomatoes on the Vine

The Juliet tomato is an indeterminate variety meaning that it will keep growing taller all summer long. Because it keeps growing Juliet plants will need to be grown in a tomato cage, staked, or trellised to allow for the continued growth. We highly recommend that you try Juliet tomatoes in your garden!!

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Okra

Posted on August 25, 2015 by Leave a comment

Okra is now a regular addition to our garden. Okra is a plant that likes warm weather and does well even in hot dry conditions, but of course will respond to water. We love this vegetable because it just keeps bearing and bearing right up until frost. We usually have a small patch in the garden and the pods rarely make it home to the table because we eat them while we are working in the garden. There are thousands of recipes for cooking with okra.

Okra Pods - showing an over mature pod, a perfect pod to pick and a pod that needs another day to mature

Okra Pods – showing an over mature pod, a perfect pod to pick and a pod that needs another day to mature

We have grown both purple and green varieties, which both taste the same to us. Okra is in the mallow family and a cousin to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock. It is a vegetable that originated in Africa and seems to have followed the importation of slaves to the southern U.S.A., the Carribean, and South America. Okra is very popular in the southern states but can be grown much farther north.

Purple Okra - showing a pickable pod, developing blossoms, and a blossom separating from a new pod

Purple Okra – showing a pickable pod, developing blossoms, and a blossom separating from a new pod

Okra seeds are planted once the soil warms up in the spring. It takes about 60 days after planting for the okra to start blossoming. Similar to the cotton plant, the blossom only lasts about a day. Pods quickly develop and are ready to pick in 4 -5 days in warm weather. If the pods grow longer than about 4 inches, they become tough and less appetizing. If pods grow too long it is best to cut them off the plant and put them in your compost bin.

Okra Blossom - showing pickable pods, an open blossom and developing blossoms. This is a very vigorous plant.

Okra Blossom – showing pickable pods, an open blossom and developing blossoms. This is a very vigorous plant.

In our community garden, we planted purple okra in rows and our neighbor planted her green okra in a group in an area about 6 feet by 3 feet. We planted earlier and had some insect problems and she planted later and her plants got off to a better start. Our plants have never caught up with hers, but are still bearing nicely. If you have never grown okra before, we suggest giving it a try. It is relatively easy to grow and produces a lot of pots. And there are and endless variety of ways to eat it. Surely you will like one of them!!

Okra Planted in a Group vs. a Row

Okra Planted in a Group vs. a Row

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Making Apple Cider

Posted on August 23, 2015 by Leave a comment

New York State is second in apple production in the United States, after Washington State, and a close third is the state of Michigan. One of the major apple growing areas in New York State is in western NY along the shore of lake Ontario between Buffalo and Rochester. The apples are harvested in the fall mainly between the end of September and the and of October. It is the perfect time of year to turn apple cider making into a great family activity. If you have access to a press and some apples you are ready to go!!

Apples Ready to Press Into Cider

Apples Ready to Press Into Cider (photo by Andrew Hetherington)

One of the challenges of making great tasting apple cider is to combine a specific blend of apples into the finished cider. Basically we combine three types of apples sweet, tart (acidic) and Bitter (tannic)(also acidic); for sweet apples we use Gala; for tart apples we use McIntosh, and for bitter apples we use Cortland. My uncle Art Williams used to add ripe bartlett pears to the mix for added sweetness and we add them too, if we can find them. We mix the three apple varieties together as equally as we can (1/3, 1/3, 1/3), prior to when we crush and press the apples to make sure the same blend is made for each gallon of cider.

Three Apple Varieties and Pears to Make the Cider Blend

Three Apple Varieties and Pears to Make the Cider Blend

It is important to maintain the mechanics of the press before and after operation. Be sure to oil or grease, gears, shafts and locking screws to make sure the mechanical parts are in working order. Our cider press is an old hand crank machine. Inspect your press to determine if it anything needs tightening or replacing. You will not want to make repairs to the press while you are making cider. If you have a more modern machine, you should consult the owners manual.

Preparing the Cider Press

Preparing the Cider Press (photo by Andrew Hetherington)

Sanitation is the most important part of preparing the press to make the cider. When we put the press in storage after use, we box up, in sealed containers, all the parts we can. Then we cover the basic press with plastic. When preparing the press, we wash it completely with detergent and water; scrubbing all the surfaces. Then we sanitize all the surfaces with a combination of bleach and water. We wash the apples prior to pressing by rinsing them off with a generous supply of water from a garden hose. Then we are ready to begin pressing the apples.

Jugs of Fresh Apple Cider to Take Home!

Jugs of Fresh Apple Cider to Take Home! (photo by Andrew Hetherington)

The prepared mixture of apples and pears are added to the hopper. The crank is turned and the apples are crushed into a pulp ready for pressing. We line the pulp tubs with a clean sheet to separate the pressed juice form the pulp as it is pressed. The pressing is done with a heavy screw pushing down on the pulp in the tub with a heavy block of wood. When the juice comes through the slats in the tub it drains to the bottom tray and comes out a hole at the end of the tray. We collect the juice with a clean plastic container. The container is then poured through a funnel into our waiting clean plastic jugs. The sweet apple cider should then be refrigerated as soon as possible and consumed within a week.

This is a great activity for family or friends!! It is an opportunity for all to work together, getting the apples, preparing the press, throwing the apples in the hopper, using a little muscle to press the pulp, dumping the dry pulp, cleaning up, drinking the cider. And of course there is always some kind of meal or barbecue involved!!

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Northern Red Belly Snake

Posted on August 15, 2015 by Leave a comment

In western NY State we have seen Northern Red Belly Snakes for 50 years. They hang out on our south facing back door stoop which is basically a very large flat stone which backs up to the concrete foundation. There are some other joining stones which provide hiding spaces for the snakes. The snakes are attracted to this area because the rocks hold heat. The warm rocks warm the cold blooded snakes. We used to call these snakes “Red Bellied Racers”. This door stoop area is also attractive to garter snakes. They both seem to be comfortable sharing the same space. Both types of snakes are relatively harmless small to mediums size snakes. We could classify the Red Belly Snake as a small snake. It only gets to be about a foot long (12 inches). The Red Belly Snake is a very friendly, easy to handle snake.

Northern Red Belly Snake

Northern Red Belly Snake

The Red Belly Snake gives birth to live young. They are nonvenomous snakes. They eat slugs, earthworms and insects. There have always been a lot of ants around our back stoop. I suspect they eat eat ants. We like having the snakes around and we do not chase them away or try to harm them.

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Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Posted on August 14, 2015 by Leave a comment

In our location in western NY State we are fortunate to have the Eastern Smooth Green Snake living near us. We only see this snake every couple of years, but have been seeing it for over 50 years. The green snake is a “friendly” snake that is relatively easy to hold and it will become relatively relaxed while being held. Green snakes do not make good pet snakes because they rarely survive in captivity. It is a small to medium size snake normally being 14-20 inches in length. It’s color varies in shades of green from quite dull to almost brilliant green, with a white or yellow belly. Green snakes are nonvenomous. They use their tongue by flicking it in and out of their mouth to smell what is around it. Their tongue is red and black. They have no ears and detect vibrations to evaluate their surroundings.

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Eastern Smooth Green Snake

Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds have a cloaca which is a single opening that is used for intestinal, urinary and reproductive body functions. On the under side of the end of the tail you can see a line which looks different. This is the opening or cloaca. Sometimes snakes will discharge a substance that has a very foul smell from this opening, when they are handled. This substance can be washed off after handling the snake. Getting this substance on you is a minor inconvenience compared to the adventure of handling a snake. When capturing and handling a snake, if you are relaxed and gentle, the snake is less likely to discharge this substance.

E. Smooth Green Snake Showing the Cloaca

E. Smooth Green Snake Showing the Cloaca

Green snakes mate in the spring and summer and lay eggs from June to September. They usually lay two clutches containing four to six eggs. The eggs are laid in natural cavities in or near the ground. The eggs are white and oval and are about one inch in length. The eggs usually hatch within 23 days.

The Beautiful Green Snake

The Beautiful Green Snake

Green snakes feed on a variety of insects and spiders, snails, worms, and slugs. They prefer to live in areas with a combination of open vegetation and shrubs. They need moisture to live which makes a nearby water source important to survival during dry periods. Snakes are cold blooded animals and lie in the sun on rocks or logs to keep warm. Snakes are often seen near a rock pile or building which holds the heat into the evening and overnight. Green snakes have predators that eat them. Their predators include the red tailed hawk, great blue herron, bears, raccoons, and foxes.

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Stocking Bluegills and Perch in the Pond

Posted on August 13, 2015 by Leave a comment

We decided to add some bluegills and perch to our farm pond. We were also going to add some pumpkinseed, but those fish were unavailable. We are fortunate that we live within a half hour drive of Smith Creek Fish Farm. We usually call during January or February to order fish for the pond. We call ahead to arrange a pick-up time which is usually about May 1st. The fish are prepared for transport in a heavy plastic bag with oxygen added to the bag and sealed like a big balloon.

Adding Bluegills and Perch to the Pond

Adding Bluegills and Perch to the Pond

When we arrive back at the farm we quickly prepare to add the fish to the pond. It is important to try to match the temperature of the water in the bag and the water temperature in the pond. It is also important that the fish are not deprived of oxygen at any point in the transfer of the fish from the fish farm to their new home. We let the bag set in the pond water for about 15 minutes for the temperature to equalize, before we release the fish.

Preparing to Release the Fish

Preparing to Release the Fish

It is our intention to allow the bluegills, perch, and hopefully pumpkinseed, to grow for a couple of years before we add largemouth bass. That way we will have a breeding population of of non-bass fish before we add the bass. We expect at that time, that the adult non-bass fish will be too large for the bass to eat. The bass will be able to feed on the small fish that are a result of the non-bass reproduction.

Equalizing the Water Temperature

Equalizing the Water Temperature

As the fish are released they seem to pause and adjust for a minute before swimming away. This should be a good pond to live in with lots of bugs and water insects to eat. There is a small stream which feeds in and out of the pond bringing in a constant supply of oxygen. There are also trees along the pond edges for shade. The pond has plenty of water weeds for the fingerlings to hide.

Fingerling Fish in Their New Home

Fingerling Fish in Their New Home

Stocking Update Oct. 2015: After two summers of growth, we caught one of our perch fingerlings that we had stocked. This fish was about ten inches long and looked very healthy. We assume they will spawn in the spring of 2017.

Yellow Perch two years old!

Yellow Perch two years old!

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Painting Contractor Tips!

Posted on August 9, 2015 by Leave a comment

1) Consider YOU choosing the paint brand and paint grade and let the contractor purchase the paint. The contractor will have a discount at the paint store and this will save you money. You should know how much the paint cost figures into the cost of the job.

2) I like Sherwin Williams paint and I buy the best paint they have. The majority of the cost of painting will be in the labor, not the paint, so buy the best, longest lasting paint. If it lasts a couple more years, it will be well worth the extra money. I used to paint houses and I can tell you they have made a lot of improvements in paint technology. A good quality paint will last a lot longer than the oil and latex paints of 15 years ago. The same is probably true for other paint brands. I think you get what you pay for. You want to avoid contractor grade!!! Don’t let the contractor make extra money on you by using contractor grade paint. Most people won’t ask!!

3) Do the same with the caulk. They have made the same improvements with caulk. Sherwin Williams now has 60 year guaranteed caulk. Not that you will be in your house for that long, but it is an indicator of the highest quality caulk. The caulk is really important because it seals the cracks that let the moisture and air into your house and a good caulk job will help the paint last longer. A good caulk is every bit as important as the paint, or more so.

4) There will be several grades of paint for both interior and exterior paint. The marketing guys bring out a new paint every year or two because everybody wants to buy the latest “thing”. The same is true for paint. The newest “stuff” always has the latest technology and costs a little more than last years “stuff”. I always want the edge of better technology in paint. What ever the improvement is, it usually helps the paint last longer or the color stay true longer. You will probably have at least 4 grades of paint to choose from.

5) I had a window with rotten wood in it. Instead of replacing the window, I had a separate contractor clean out the hole and fill the hole with an epoxy type material, sanded, primed and painted. I did the priming and painting. I did this about a year ago. So far, it looks like new. I will be curious to see how long it lasts. We also had some rotten wood parts on our porch posts. The same contractor replaced the wood parts with plastic replacement parts, which won’t rot in the future. You can’t tell what the difference; it all looks the same. The structural integrity is the same or better. If your contractor is qualified to make this repair, it should be considered.

Repainted Windows and Sash on an Old House

Repainted Windows and Sash on an Old House

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